The Ancient Town Next Door

Haderslev, Denmark, the town nearest to where we’re housesitting, deserves better. It doesn’t receive a single mention in the Lonely Planet guidebook for Denmark, and the friend we’re housesitting for gave the impression that it’s a fairly uninteresting place. So we weren’t expecting much the first time we drove into Haderslev to get our bearings and some groceries. It turns out that to our American eyes, this old market town of 21,000 people is a picturesque and inviting place.

There’s a famous butcher and a terrific bakery (drive-through, no less!) and a twice-weekly farmers market with two cheese trucks and lots of local produce. There’s a European-style pedestrian street lined with shops selling clothing and housewares (plus two knitting stores—winters here are long and cold). The historic center of town is full of cobblestone streets lined with pretty half-timbered or gabled houses and a little square where you can have a drink at an outdoor cafe—each chair helpfully comes with a fleece blanket because even in summer, it’s still only in the low 60s.

Rising above the town is a tall brick cathedral, one of the earliest sites of the Protestant Reformation in Denmark in the 1500s. Its plain white-painted interior is the scene of free organ concerts during the summer, another one of Haderslev’s pleasures.

The town has been here since at least the 1290s. This part of southern Jutland went back and forth between Danish and German control over the centuries. There’s still a sizable German minority in the area, and Haderslev has a separate German school, newspaper, and library in addition to the Danish ones. Although some younger Danes speak English, many people around here speak some German. On more than one occasion, Melissa’s high school German has come in very handy.

Despite its history, Haderslev feels very down to earth and only a little touristy. Most of the summer visitors are Danes and Germans; U.S. tourists are a novelty. It’s fun that we are curiosities and not just another pair of Americans, as in so many other parts of Europe.

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